Biden faces protest vote over Gaza in Michigan primary contest

AFP , Ahram Online , Tuesday 27 Feb 2024

The US state of Michigan votes Tuesday in a presidential primary that is expected to be another ticker-tape parade for Republican Donald Trump -- but could deliver Democratic leader Joe Biden a bloody nose over the war in Gaza.

Samra a Luqman (R) hands out fliers outside of the American Moslem Society Mosque to ask voters not
FILE PHOTO: Samra a Luqman (R) hands out fliers outside of the American Moslem Society Mosque to ask voters not to vote for President Joe Biden after Friday prayers in Dearborn Heights, Michigan, on February 16, 2024. AFP


Biden faces no serious opposition to being nominated to run for a second term in the White House.

But as the civilian death toll mounts in the conflict between Israel and Hamas, he has seen support erode among Muslims and Arab Americans, a bloc crucial to his narrow 2020 victory over Trump in Michigan.

Activists in the key midwestern battleground -- where Biden's winning margin four years ago was a mere 150,000 votes -- want Michigan residents to vote "uncommitted" in protest, pressuring the president to back off from his Israel support and call for an immediate ceasefire.

"President Biden has funded the bombs falling on the family members of people right here in Michigan -- people who voted for him, who now feel completely betrayed," said Layla Elabed of the "Listen to Michigan" campaign.

The group aims to amass 10,000 "uncommitted" voters to deliver a "powerful, unequivocal message" that funding and supporting the war is "at odds with the values of the Democratic Party."

Biden is cruising to the Democratic nomination, with his main would-be rival, Minnesota congressman Dean Phillips, polling in single digits.

But activists deny that the "uncommitted" campaign is merely symbolic, given their importance in an election decided on small margins.

"Ten thousand votes is about the same as Donald Trump's margin over Hillary Clinton in 2016," Elabed said.

But concern has mounted amid the high civilian death toll in Israel's war on Gaza, now at almost 30,000, according to the health ministry in Gaza.

'Stark numbness'


White House officials have portrayed Biden as frustrated with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Still, US weapons have continued to flow to Israel, even as efforts continue to broker a second pause in fighting.

Biden has asked Congress for billions of dollars in additional military aid and his government has vetoed multiple UN Security Council calls for a ceasefire.

A similar write-in campaign calling for a ceasefire during the New Hampshire primary went nowhere, but Michigan has a significantly larger Muslim and Arab population.

"With every day that passes, every minute that the president fails to do the right thing, the belief that I and so many others have invested in him dwindles," Abdullah Hammoud, the mayor of the heavily Arab American Detroit suburb of Dearborn, wrote in The New York Times last week.

"With every American-made bomb that Israel's right-wing government drops on Gaza, a stark numbness coats everything, restricting any space for belief to grow."

Domestic opposition to the Gaza war


Since the start of the war, hundreds of thousands have protested in various cities across the US demanding that Washington call for a ceasefire in Gaza, with many demanding an end to US military and political support to Israel.

Many voices inside the State Department and the White House have also expressed outrage at the unconditional support given by Washington to Tel Aviv as Israel uses US weapons to kill and wound more than 100,000 Palestinians in Gaza and reduce the strip to rubble.

A recent poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research showed that half of US adults say Israel's military campaign in Gaza has “gone too far,” a finding driven mainly by growing disapproval among Republicans and political independents.

Broadly, the poll showed support for Israel and the Biden administration's handling of the situation ebbing slightly further across the board.

The poll also showed only 31 percent of US adults approve of Biden's handling of the conflict, including just 46 percent of Democrats.

In mid-January, 11 senators joined Senator Bernie Sanders, an outspoken critic of the human toll of the Israeli war on civilians in Gaza, in the procedural vote to decide whether to investigate human rights abuses in the Israeli war on the Gaza Strip.

That vote was defeated after opposition from 72 senators.

Michigan: An Arab-American base

Many in the US have condemned the Biden administration's military support for Israel and its use of its veto power in the United Security Council to derail or defeat all resolutions for a permanent ceasefire.

Michigan is home to 400,000 Arab-Americans - one of the largest clusters of the 3.5-million-plus Arab-American community in any one state.

Arab Americans have overwhelmingly opposed the Biden administration's military and political support for Israel in its war on Gaza.

Thousands of Arab Americans have been demonstrating non-stop against the war in Washington DC and cities and campuses around the US.

A majority of Arab Americans say they will not vote again for Biden but will vote instead for a third party in the upcoming presidential elections in November.

The Arab American Institute found that only 17 percent of Arab Americans say they will vote for Biden in 2024, down from 59 percent who did in 2020.

In 2020, Arab Americans helped Biden carry Michigan by a narrow 2.78 percent margin.

Many Biden campaign events have been marred by protesters who chant "Free Free Palestine!" and "Hey Biden You Can't Hide - We Charge You With Genocide".

Protesters have been demanding that the US end its military support to Israel and vote for an immediate ceasefire in the UNSC.

On Thursday, President Biden chose not to engage with representatives of the Arab-American community during his Michigan campaign stop.

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